How to Hone Your Straight Razor? Shaving 101
In this West Coast Shaving 101 video, Aviv and Matt break down the intricacies of honing your straight razor.
When and Why Do You Hone a Straight Razor?
Eventually all razors will dull. If you are still in the safety razor world, you would simply replace your razor blade with a new sharp blade, but in the world of straight razors, you need to learn the art of honing, or sharpening, your blade. When you start to feel it pull and it isn’t as smooth, that is when you need to take it to a honing stone.
Honing is a process of running the blade along stones of varying coarseness in order to bring the blade back to sharpness. Unlike stropping, this process will remove bits of metal for the purpose of bringing the blade back to life.
What Do You Need to Get Started Honing a Straight Razor?
It is recommended that when you first begin with a straight razor, you get it professionally honed. Once you have developed your shaving technique then you can begin to hone (see what I did there) your sharpening skills. You can continue to send it out to get it honed if you don’t want to invest in the equipment and time to do it yourself, but many straight razor aficionados appreciate caring for their tools as well.
Invest in a few sharpening stones. A synthetic, two-sided hone is a great place to start - coarse on one side, fine on the other. 4000/8000 is a common measurement. Just a note, that these tips are for touching up a razor that is well-cared for. If you are looking to restore a vintage straight razor, you will need more steps. The coarse grade will remove more metal from the edge of the blade. The finer grit is for polish and finishing. You can also get a stone specifically for finishing. 12000+ will really work to polish the blade.
Razor edge is sharp and delicate. So you must take care to sharpen it correctly. If you are already a proficient knife honer, you might find that you still have a learning curve with a straight razor blade. Take your time.
How to Hone a Straight Razor
- Soak the sharpening stone. (10+ minutes). When the stone is new, you will have to lap it. You will need two stones. Keep both wet. Place them together and make a circle/figure 8. You will feel a suction effect as it smooths off any irregularities on the stone. You want it as completely flat as possible so that you don’t get nicks in your blade. (One way to know it is working is to put pencil hash marks across the stone and as you lap you will see where the high points are.)
- Even though the stone has been soaking, drip some water on the coarse side of the stone. Hold the razor in your hand or lay it flat on a towel or non-slip surface. (PRO TIP: If you hold it in your hand, make sure your fingers aren’t peeping over the top edge. You don’t want to remove your digits as you slide the blade down the stone.)
- Take the straight razor and grip the end of the blade near the scales, between your thumb and index finger. Place the entire blade flat at the top of the stone (make sure spine and edge are both contacting the stone) and drag it toward you. It is recommended that you get a stone that is as wide as your blade so that you don’t have to worry about missing any part of the blade (If it is a smaller stone, you will need to use an x pattern to hit all parts of the edge.) When you reach the bottom of the stone, flip the blade along the spine and return to position against the stone. Now drag away from you. One lap is down and back. (You don’t need to exert much pressure. As the mantra in wet shaving goes “let the weight of the razor do the work”).
- Turn the stone to the fine/finishing side.
- If you are just beginning, a recommended pattern is the pyramid pattern method. It is designed to work well on the Norton 4000/8000 stone.
- To get a really nice shave, you will probably need something more than 8K. A finishing stone is great for this last step. Try 5-8 more strokes on a natural stone for finishing. You can tell that the blade is getting sharp when it “ploughs” the water. (It pushes the water along).
- The best way to test your blade is to shave with it. Does it move smoothly through your whiskers? Do you feel any pull or drag? You can also do the arm hair test where you catch a few arm hairs with your blade and see if they “pop”.
How Often Do You Hone a Straight Razor?
The short answer is “as often as it needs it”.
Blades can be honed as frequently as once a week, although that isn’t recommended. And a good edge can last as long as months. If your razor is a daily driver, it will definitely need to go to the hone more frequently than one that is part of a rotation of razors or only gets used a few times a week.
Are you a straight razor user? Do you hone your own blade? Let us know your tips in the comments below.